Eden Hazard, the prodigiously talented Lille midfielder-cum-forward, has been making eyes at Manchester United this week. Precipitated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s widely reported trip to France on Saturday evening, the 21-year-old says that he is “excited” by the prospect of joining United during the summer transfer window.
That may be the case, but with Ferguson unlikely to be furnished with the kind of funds that will secure the Belgian playmaker, United supporters may be in for another summer of tedious transfer stories. It has, after all, become so routine.
Indeed, there was no confirmation forthcoming from Ferguson that the Scot’s flying French visit was to ‘scout’ Hazard at all, although almost all of Europe’s leading clubs – and Tottenham Hotspur – are monitoring the Belgian’s progress and availability. There is no doubt that Hazard will leave in the coming summer though, whatever his destination, with the player having outgrown Ligue 1. Nor is the 21-year-old likely to welcome an impending 75 per cent tax rate for France-based millionaires.
What is certain: the Belgian international, now into his fourth season with Lille, will have the choice of clubs when he makes the move to Spain, Italy, or England after the winter opens in June.
Yet, United fans will feel a tinge of excitement this week, both as news of Ferguson’s trip filtered out on Saturday night, and on the player’s positive comments, Monday. Who can blame supporters – Hazard is just the kind of creative playmaker, who can play both wide and centrally, which United has lacked in recent years.
“Of course [United interests me], this is a club that excites everyone, but for now my focus is on Lille,” the player reportedly told La Voix du Nord.
“But yes, it is a pleasure to be watched by one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best.”
Supporters should take the comments with a pinch of salt though, coming just weeks after the 36-cap international name-checked Spurs as a possible summer destination, with media widely reporting that the player had already agreed terms with the north London club.
Seemingly casting his net wide, Hazard has also spoken of his admiration for Real Madrid, Arsenal and Barcelona; a young man desperately seeking a hefty pay rise and a leg up the next rung of the footballing ladder.
“Our owner is ready to pay for an exceptional talent like Eden Hazard,” claimed soon-to-be England manager Redknapp.
“I have seen him several times. But I know Manchester United are also following him very closely. City, too. It will be difficult to sign him. But I love him. Last year, I loved Gervinho too.”
The White Hart Lane boss’ amorous feelings will likely remain unrequited unless Spurs smashes its notoriously strict pay scale, and the player genuinely believes he will not break into the side at one of Europe’s tier one clubs. It is an unlikely scenario for a player destined for the very top.
True, the spectre of Karim Benzema’s difficult first season at Real Madrid looms large, although it would take a huge lack of confidence on Hazard’s part to turn down a bid from one of Europe’s super-powers, even if it is a fear Hazard expressed in February when rumours first surfaced of Tottenham’s deal.
“Maybe I will play there [Spurs] next season,” said the youngster, who began his career at Tubize in his native Belgium.
“It is a nice club with a lot of good players and absolutely a top coach. I have not signed anything yet, but I hope it will happen in the near future. Perhaps Spanish football would be better for me, rather than the English. But if you want to be champion, you would need to play with Barcelona or Real Madrid. The opportunities would be much smaller.
“The competition would be strong at Tottenham too, but less so that at Barca or Real. I think I can learn the most in England. You play a big game every week and the atmosphere is great.”
Meanwhile, both City and Chelsea have sent scouting teams to Lille in search of Europe’s ‘next big thing’. Both have the finances to lure Hazard to England of course, although neither has been named checked by the player.
Then there is United, and Ferguson’s dash to France at the weekend. In truth, with the Reds unlikely to spend big until post IPO – whenever that may be – United is probably no more interested in Hazard than the club was in Barcelona-bound Alexis Sanchez last summer. It has, after all, been several years since the Old Trafford bean counters allowed Ferguson to shop at the very top of the transfer market. Hazard will go for more than £25 million.
Ferguson is far more likely, while we’re playing a game of transfer speculation, to have been watching Lille’s defender Mathieu Debuchy, or Olympique Lyonnaise midfielder Clement Grenier during the match at Stade Gerland.
In truth the spectre of Real will likely decide Hazard’s future, no matter the player’s proclamation to the contrary. After all, with Zinedine Zidane successfully tapping up the Francophone market for the prospective Spanish champions in recent years, the lure of Los Merengues is sure to be strong.
“He is a star of the future,” Zidane said. “He is strong technically and very fast. I would take him to Madrid without a second’s thought.”
Many United supporters would concur, if a deal to take Hazard to Old Trafford materialises. Glazernomics and European rivals dictate that it is unlikely.